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‘A dramatic increase in need’

PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Eli Hill

In one year more than a million dollars in emergency grants were given by the government to Wairarapa people in need.

And Wairarapa services say the number is just an indicator of the overall need in the region.

An official information act request made by Greytown-based research firm, Planalytics to the Ministry of Social Development found that 5764 special needs grants were issued by Wairarapa Community Link from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020,

These came to $1,137,329.

Special needs grants are additional income support provided by Work and Income to address the immediate needs of families and individuals.

They are issued for a range of purposes including for food, emergency housing, dental visits, and health travel costs.

There were 3924 special needs grants for food issued over the period – the largest number of any category, amounting to $422,099 over the 12-month period.

Grants for emergency housing were also high, 357 provided, amounting to $391,994.

Connecting Communities general manager Maria McKenzie. PHOTO/FILE

Connecting Communities general manager Maria McKenzie said there had been a dramatic increase in need.

“I don’t think you can compare anything from this year to last year. I hate the word, but it’s unprecedented.”

Depending on government subsidies, employment, and businesses in future, McKenzie thought that need might increase.

“It’s how do you anticipate the need? We’ve just employed a new social services manager and we’ll be ready to respond.

“It’s about being flexible for any outcome.”

McKenzie asked people who needed support with budgeting and their finances to contact the service – even if they weren’t MSD clients.

She said the numbers of special needs grants were only an indication of community need – there was a lot of work done by community groups and services that wouldn’t be reflected in the statistics.

While the South Wairarapa Foodbank Collective had experienced an increase in demand during lockdown it wasn’t as large as manager Indigo Freya had anticipated.

“Although I can tell you that we are suddenly very busy just in this last week. I think it’s catching up with people.”

The food bank gives people a standardised parcel that contains a supply of food that will last “a few days”.

Freya said the main reasons people needed food packages were lack of work and diminished work.

Increased demand for emergency housing along with other factors, including restrictions of movement and activity during lockdown, made it harder for MSD to move clients to more sustainable accommodation, the ministry’s regional commissioner for central region Katie Brosnahan said.

“This resulted in clients spending more time in emergency housing and higher costs.”

Brosnahan said there had been a trend of increasing demand for food grants and special needs grants in general.

“There was a sharp increase at the time of lockdown, and it has declined since then.”

Planalytics’ director Toni Kennerley was surprised at the high number and amount of special needs grants issued in Wairarapa, particularly for food and emergency housing.

“There is some real community need out there and although our community groups and local organisations do a great job supporting those in need, they can’t do it all”.

Kennerley was looking forward to receiving further data regarding special needs grants to understand any additional trends that may have occurred over the period of the covid-19 lockdown.

“Although special needs grants are only one indicator of community need they provide useful insight into what’s going on locally,” Kennerley said.

“The more we understand, the more central and local government and community groups can design and implement effective interventions.”

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